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There are a thousand floating shelf examples, videos, and plans out there. But, I wanted to do something a little different and design one that was also entirely a hidden drawer.
It turned out remarkably well. There is a great beginner version using simple techniques and tools and then a more advanced verions with LEDs on the bottom side of the drawer, guides to make the drawer open and close better, and mitered bevels to hide the joints.
I started by cutting all the dowels, supports, and ledger. I then took the ledger to the wall the shelf would eventually be mounted to and marked out the studs. It’s much easier to get this part out of the way now and to make sure I don’t line up a stud where a drawer support will be.
Securely clamp the support and ledger pieces to a flat work surface and mark at 1/4” and 1” from each end. Mark lines at 17” from each end. Then, mark down 3/4” in each location.
I use a 3/4” spade bit to drill the dowel holes through the ledger and support pieces. Using an auger bit will destroy soft wood, so stick to a brad point bit or spade bit.
I added a bit of glue to the holes drilled into the support and ledger pieces and hammer them in with a mallet. The front of the drawer is attached with glue and brad nails.
I use the drawer to mark the bottom drawer panel and cut it to fit either flush or slightly smaller than the drawer itself. The panel gets glued and nailed in place.
I attach the shelf sides to the bottom piece with glue and nails, so that we can install the drawer slides and make adjustments with easy access.
I want to mark a line to make it easy to install the slide. There are a couple of ways to do this, the first being to measure halfway down and mark at both ends. I use a straight-edge to join the lines and that gives me a halfway reference all the way down.
The second way to make a halfway line is to set a combination square and slide it down the length of the piece. I attach the drawer slide member to the shelf and the drawer slide to the drawer 1/8” from the back edge of each one.
I don’t want the shelf to slide open anytime it’s touched or the wall gets bumped, so I’ll add some rare earth magnets to secure it when it’s closed.
The rare earth magnets will be centered on the ledger, so I measure 3/4” from the edge and drill a very shallow hole with a 3/4” forstner bit. I’m using 5 minute epoxy to secure the magnets.
To make sure I don’t put the magnets in upside down I mark each side that is face up with a sharpie (FIG 14).
If you dry assemble the drawer and realize it’s a little bit too wide, it’s pretty easy to trim the drawer on the miter saw. Cut small slivers and sneak up on the fit to keep from cutting off too much. I temporarily clamp the top and mount the shelf to the drawer.
I pull the drawer out about 1” and mark the outer bounds of the magnets onto the shelf. I remove the shelf top and mark 3/4” from the back edge within the outer lines that were drawn.
Wood needs to be finished on every side to prevent uneven absorption and release of moisture. I cover the edges that will still get glue and the slides before spraying one coat on the inside faces of every piece and then finish gluing up the shelf.
The advanced version is largely the same as the beginner version with just a couple of changes. The drawer bottom is cut 1” shorter from the back edge to allow for LEDs. All of the shelf pieces will cut a mitered bevel except for the edges that are in the back – i.e., any edge that touches the wall. Glue the edges up and secure them with masking tape.
I use the adhesive that comes with the LED strip, but I also use hot glue to make sure the strip stays in place. I drill a hole in one corner of the bottom of the drawer to run the cable through and use hot glue to minimize the cable moving around.
I originally designed this shelf so that the LEDs will subtly shine through the crack between the wall and shelf, but that ended up being too subtle. So, I cut a 1” slot in the bottom of the shelf, with a jigsaw, to open up the light.
The beginner version has a problem with wracking (the shelf wants to pull out unevenly) and to mitigate that I route grooves all the way through the bottom shelf piece and cut 3/4” x 1/2” x 6” guides to attach to the bottom of the drawer.
I place the guides on washers to raise them above the shelf and then spread hot glue on the guides and set the drawer on them. I can either drive some screws now or mark the location, remove the guides, and then attach them with screws.
The guides will keep the drawer straight as long as the fit is right. If they are loose then the drawer could still wrack, but it still won’t be as bad as without guides.
I use 3 1/2” lag screws with a 5/16” washer to attach the ledger to the wall. A level helps keep it straight. I recommend using a minimum of 2 screws for any shelf and 1 screw per 18” of shelf width.
Mount the shelf onto the drawer and double-check your fit.
You’re done with your first floating shelf drawer!
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